Selig warns GMs about economic turmoil as meetings begin

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Listing some of the Wall Street firms that have fallen, baseball commissioner Bud Selig warned general managers about the national economy as they formally began their annual meeting Tuesday.

Some club executives say teams have delayed setting budgets for payroll because they want to determine whether the economic downturn will change revenue projections.

Selig spoke to the GMs by video conference for eight or nine minutes, according to Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office. Solomon said Selig began the session by discussing the state of baseball.

"He also talked about our economy and how troubling it's been and how we have to operate in a fashion that's cognizant of that economy," Solomon said. "Basically it was short and to the point."

Selig mentioned that Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch have fallen in the past year.

"We're living in a tumultuous economic period," Selig said later in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Many economists believe that we're going to have significant problems. Maybe this could turn out to be the most difficult period since the Great Depression. I view these coming months with trepidation."

Agent Scott Boras, who represents Manny Ramirez and Mark Teixeira, took the exact opposite point of view. Boras called this "one of the more aggressive markets for players" and compared it to the free-agent group after the 2000 season. Boras negotiated Alex Rodriguez's $252 million, 10-year contract with Texas that offseason, when Ramirez signed a $160 million, eight-year deal with Boston.

Boras acknowledged the slow U.S. economy in general but said MLB had little reason to worry.

"In our myopic world," he said, "there's a lot of fixed elements that frankly are not as applicable to the outside world."

He cited guaranteed revenue, such as the New York Mets' naming-rights deal with Citigroup and team television agreements. MLB had revenue of $6.5 billion this year.

"We have record revenues in the game. It may be that we have record needs for a lot of teams," Boras said. "This free-agent marketplace, there's a core of players, maybe as many 10 to 12 players, that really have demand for a lot of teams. There may be as many as nine or 10 teams that don't have a closer. ... This is a rare opportunity to have veteran starting pitchers on the marketplace that you can classify in that [No.] 2 or 3 category."

San Diego GM Kevin Towers disagreed with that analysis.

"I don't think baseball's immune to that. I think all of us, I'm sure, will feel it as we get deeper into the winter," he said. "We felt it at the gate this year near the end of this season. And it doesn't help when you've got a bad product out there, too. ... The only way we're going to get them to come back out there is to put a better product on the field."

Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams compared big free-agent contracts to "golden parachutes" received by bank executives. He thought the economy could affect salaries but wasn't counting on it.

"I don't know who in our society is getting raises," he said. "It seems to reason to me that we should all bear a certain amount of the same hurt and struggle that's going on with the rest of society."

Oakland general manager Billy Beane said he can't remember another period when there had been as many stories about the economy and sports.

"I don't think anyone, especially in this economy and in this environment, has a blank check to do anything," said Los Angeles Angels GM Tony Reagins, who might try to keep closer Francisco Rodriguez and Teixeira. "Everyone in America is feeling this economic situation."

Boras wouldn't guess whether a slowdown would lower the value of non-stars.

"In the world of desserts, I'm only in the frosting part," he said. "I haven't gotten to the cake yet."

Solomon said the GMs also received an umpire report. After instant replay for certain home run calls began Aug. 28, seven calls were reviewed by umpires and two were overturned. While it was available, instant replay was not needed for any postseason games.

Unlike last year, the GMs did not all state their offseason goals. The idea, suggested by last year's co-chairs, Boston's Theo Epstein and Florida's Larry Beinfest, caused the players' association to issue a statement saying "the sharing of information between clubs as to their plans regarding players potentially raise serious questions concerning the fairness and integrity of the free-agent market."

GMs were given a report on baseball's drug program. While only two players -- Humberto Cota and Eliezer Alfonzo -- were suspended for positive tests under the major league plan, 66 suspensions occurred under the minor league program. Of those, 40 were from players in the Dominican Summer League and 10 from the Venezuelan Summer League.

"Rob Manfred talked about the fact that the Dominican is going to be one of our areas of focus," said Solomon, referring to baseball's executive vice president of labor relations. "And education is as important to the program as the prevention. A lot of the kids have to be informed. The parents, too."

GMs also heard a presentation on relations with Nippon Professional Baseball. Japanese clubs are unhappy 22-year-old pitcher Junichi Tazawa wants to bypass professional clubs in his own country and sign with a major league team.

"We're sitting down with the various commissioner's offices from the various countries and talking with them about our protocol agreements, but nothing definitive," Solomon said.